But at the Staples Center on Thursday night, after the Celtics had blown a golden opportunity to dethrone the mighty Lakers in Game 7 of the NBA Finals, something at changed. Rivers was — believe it or not — a little bit emotional.
"Yeah, I am," the Celtics coach admitted. "We just lost a Game 7, and with a terrific group. I mean, this group, they were awesome."
That's part of it, yes. Any time you lose a Game 7 under the bright lights of the postseason, it's a little tough to swallow. But this particular loss, coming at the end of this particular season, is especially painful for Rivers. There's a chance that now, after six years manning the sidelines for the Celtics, the coach could be stepping down.
The reasons are well documented. Rivers has three children, and all will be rising seniors next year, two in college and one in high school. All are standout athletes — son Jeremiah plays basketball at Indiana, daughter Callie plays volleyball at Florida, and youngest son Austin is one of the nation's top recruits in basketball. Rivers is a devoted family man, and now more than ever he wants to be around his wife and kids.
He just led the Celtics to within 24 minutes of an NBA championship, and he's got the chance to go out on (almost) top. But he's not making any snap decisions.
"I don't know," Rivers said. "I'm going to wait. I'm going to go and watch my kids play AAU basketball, and I'm going to wait for a little bit."
Rivers will have a lot to wait on. He's yet to find out the future of Rasheed Wallace, who's weighing retirement, or Ray Allen, whose contract expires this summer. Paul Pierce has an opt-out clause to leave this summer as well, and a number of role players off the Celtics' bench — Tony Allen, Nate Robinson and Marquis Daniels — are free agents too.
A lot is still up in the air. And Rivers, still grappling with a tough loss in Game 7, isn't ready to face the future.
"It's tough," he said. "You know, I can't reflect on it right now. Probably in a week or so, I'll go hide somewhere for a while. But you know, it was the craziest, most emotional group I've ever coached in my life. I told them they made me reach to places that I never thought I needed to go. But through it all, we were the tightest, most emotional, crazy group that I've ever been with in my life. So that's what makes it tough."
After going through a journey like this, it will be hard for Rivers to find the strength to start anew. Especially with so many outside factors luring him away from the basketball court.
It's been a long, winding road for Rivers to reach this moment. And right now, in the wake of such a tough loss and such a grinding season, it's hard for him to make sense of anything.
"Listen," Rivers said. "We had a goal before the year was started, and we didn't say we weren't going to go through some trials and tribulations. We just had a goal to get here, and that was our goal, and to win it. So whatever we had to go through was worth it — the injuries, the chemistry, just everything. It was worth it at the end of the day, and I think every guy would tell you that."
You can take that one of two ways.
Either he finds the job rewarding, and he wants to stay. Or he finds it exhausting, and he's ready to go.
Which is it? We may not know for a while.